HD&D: Weapon Skills

Today we begin our look at the HD&D skills system. I’m going to present this over three posts. Today, it’s weapon skills – a definite area for contention given the comments that arose during the last time I mentioned this. Before we begin, let me remind you where things stand.

The HD&D Skills System

All characters have 16 class skills, chosen from a list of around 30 favoured skills. Anything that isn’t a class skills is a cross-class skill. Every level a character gets eight skill points. It costs one skill point to put a class skill up by one rank, and two skill points to put up a cross-class skill by one rank. The maximum ranks you can have in any skill is half your level rounded up (one rank at first level).

Skill checks are made by rolling 1d20 and adding the relevent ability score modifier, the number of ranks you have in a skill and any other relevent bonuses (such as from your race or your selection of feats). All these bonuses added together give you your “skill modifier”. The average skill modifier for a first level character, in a skill immediately relevent to his profession, is +5.

Weapon skills work the same way as every other skill (something of a departure for D&D). However, every weapon in the game cannot be a separate skill, so instead I opted to divide the number of weapon skills available into broad categories such as Heavy Blades, Axes or Polearms.

However, there are still about thirteen of these weapon skills. Many of you thought that this unfairly penalised a fighter compared to a wizard who only has to get three different skills to be able to cast magic successfully. There are a number of reasons why I did this:

  • In HD&D, the number of skills you get is dependent upon level and not on class. This is very important. If the number of skills varied from class to class then multiclassing could be used to cherry pick. If you wanted a lot of skills you’d make sure you took your first level in rogue and then multiclassed into fighter at level two. This happened all the time in third edition, and I want to get away from that.
  • Spellcasters tend to be cerebral characters. They know a lot of stuff. I would argue that Knowledge skills are just as much part and parcel of a wizard or a cleric, than the skills they use to cast magic. There are a lot of knowledge skills. Spellcasters have to have the skill points available to get a good selection of them. This is not as important for the fighter.
  • There aren’t actually that many other skills that are appropriate for fighters. Once you take away weapons, what’s left? Athletics, Swimming, Cimbing… there was a reason fighters got so few skill points in third edition. A lot of weapon skills help to pad out what would otherwise be a very limited skill selection for the fighter.

Now, you might thing that none of the above are very good reasons. Good! Tell me why you think that, and (even better) give me an alternative system. Remember, that the essence of HD&D is devolving things like skill points, hit points and the progression of powers and special abilities away from classes and making them dependent on your overall character level. The system can’t work if some classes get benefits outside the framework that has already been laid down.

So, with that in mind, I am going to use this post to decide the correct weapon groupings that can be turned into HD&D skills. Second, Third and Fourth editions have taken a stab at this, so we’re going to look at each one in turn and then try to come to a decision.

Second Edition: Skills and Powers

In 2nd edition all classes got a number of Weapon Proficiency slots, from which they could select their weapon skills. If characters tried to use a weapon they were not proficient in, then they took a penalty to hit. The penalty depended on your character class, with fighters taking a -2 penalty in weapons they were not proficient in.

The Player’s Option series of books (which Neil alluded to in his earlier comments on this blog) were the first to divide weapon proficiencies into weapon groups. They collected all weapons together into Tight Groups and Broad Groups.

Getting proficiency in a tight group of weapons (e.g. axes) cost 2 proficiency slots, but the character could use all the weapons in the tight group without penalty. Such characters were considered familiar with all the other weapons in the broad group (picks and hammers in the case of axes). Fighters only had a -1 penalty to hit with weapons they were familiar with.

Single-classed fighters (and only single-classed fighters) could spend 3 weapon proficiency slots and gain proficiency over all the weapons in a broad weapon group.

So, here is the complete list of the tight and broad weapon groups from Player’s Option: Skills and Powers. The broad groups are in bold, and the tight groups (where applicable) beneath in itallics.

Axes, Picks and Hammers


Clubs, Maces and Flails


Daggers and Knives


Spear-like polearms

Spears and Javelins

Middle Eastern
Fencing Weapons

Chain and Rope Weapons

Martial Art Weapons

Hand match weapons
Snaplocks and Flintlocks

It’s a bit off in places isn’t it? Why are spearlike polearms a different proficiency (in a different broad group no less!) to spears? In hind sight perhaps Skills and Powers was not as great as we remember it being. There’s some nice ideas in here, but the weapon groups were improved upon in the next edition.

Third edition: Unearthed Arcana

These optional rules from Unearthed Arcana replaced the standard weapon rules in my ongoing third edition campaigns. The full rules can be found online here. There were no tight or broad groups here, just weapon groups. This is the list:

  • Axes
  • Basic Weapons
  • Bows
  • Claw Weapons
  • Crossbows
  • Druid Weapons
  • Flails and Chains
  • Heavy Blades
  • Light Blades
  • Maces and Clubs
  • Monk Weapons
  • Pick and Hammers
  • Polearms
  • Slings and Thrown Weapons
  • Spears and Lances

In additional there were two groups for “exotic” weapons – the sort of weapons you had to spend feats on to master properly:

  • Exotic Weapons
  • Exotic Double-Weapons

The logic was that if you had the Exotic Weapons group, then you could use any exotic weapons in any other weapon group you knew, without penalty. It was a handy mechanic that stopped fighters having to spend all their feats on esoteric weapons just because they wanted to look cool.

What the third edition rules did was to give the option to specialise in a group of mechanically dissimilar weapons, that were thematically similar. A druid learning “Druid Weapons” became proficient in the club, dagger, dart, quarterstaff, scimitar, sickle, shortspear, sling and spear without having to learn the other groups separately.

Fourth Edition: Player’s Handbook 1

In fourth edition there are no rules for learning weapons in groups. The proficiencies you know are still a factor of your class (as it was in the core third edition rules). However, 4e still divides weapons into groups and lists those groups in PHB1. Here’s the fourth edition list:

  • Axe
  • Bow
  • Crossbow
  • Flail
  • Hammer
  • Heavy Blade
  • Light Blade
  • Mace
  • Pick
  • Polearm
  • Sling
  • Spear
  • Staff
  • Unarmed

 There are less weapons available in fourth edition than in the previous two edition (and no whips) so the 4e list probably isn’t complete. The 4e list would count thrown daggers under Light Blade (they would have been in the Slings and Thrown Weapons group in third edition).

Two Options for HD&D

My instinct is to use the fourth edition list of weapon groups and tweak it slightly with my experience from past editions. Given the fact we are openly converting these weapons in to skills, I don’t think there is room for skill groups like Druid Weapons, Monk Weapons or Basic Weapons.

So our first option is to create broad weapon skills based around a certain type of weapons. I think that the list should look something like this:

  • Axe
  • Bow
  • Crossbow
  • Flails and Chains (would include whips)
  • Hammers and Picks
  • Heavy Blade
  • Light Blade
  • Maces and Clubs (would include staffs)
  • Polearms and Lances
  • Sling
  • Spears
  • Unarmed

Which gives us a list of twelve weapon skills. “Unarmed” is a catch-all term for punching and kicking. Monks and other martial artists would use the Unarmed skill as their primary means of attack. I’m still looking for a more suitable skill to key off things like Dragon Breath. I don’t want to create a unique skill for that sort of thing because of its narrow focus.

Of course, I could argue that supernatural attacks such as dragonbreath weren’t skills at all and automatically gained a bonus to hit of half your character level rounded up. That’s an option, I suppose.

The second option is to make the combat skills relate to the nature of the attack rather than the weapon itself. In that case the weapon skills would look more like this:

  • Bows
  • Mêlée (Bludgeoning)
  • Mêlée (Chopping)
  • Mêlée (Piercing)
  • Mêlée (Slashing)
  • Projectiles (including crossbows)
  • Thrown

Which reduces the skill list down to seven. Mêlée (Bludgeoning) is then probably the monk’s skill of choice. This is my least favourite of the two options. The skills seem too broad. Using the logic above, the monk is equally as good with the warhammer as he is at kicking someone in the face. Unless we include an eighth skill for Unarmed combat, of course.

Strength or Dexterity?

This is an old chestnut, but one I think that we need to lay to rest at this juncture. Traditionally in D&D, Strength gave a bonus to hit and to damage with mêlée weapons; Dexterity gave a bonus to hit but not to damage with ranged weapons.

Fourth edition equalised this somewhat. If you use a ranged weapon in fourth edition you gain a bonus to hit and to damage equal to your dexterity modifier. This balances the game, but doesn’t make an ounce of sense.

In third edition, you could take the feat Weapon Finesse which let you use your dexterity instead of your strength in light mêlée weapons such as short swords, rapiers and daggers.

HD&D has an advantage over previous editions in as far as we don’t have to rely on the same ability score modifier for something as broad as “mêlée” or “ranged” weapons. I say what we divide the weapon skills up. Some use Strength, some use Dexterity. Assuming that we keep the twelve weapon skills listed above, this is how I would divide them:

Strength to hit, Strength for damage
Axe, Hammers & Picks, Heavy Blade, Maces & Clubs, Lances & Polearms, Spears

Dexterity to hit, Strength for damage
Bow, Flails and Chains, Light Blade, Sling

Dexterity to hit, no modifier to damage

The disadvantage of this (if you can call it a disadvantage) is that fighters might find themselves valuing dexterity more than they used to. This may lessen the number of uber-fighters with Strength 20 at 1st level.

The move benefits classes that rely on their dexterity anyway. Rogues would find themselves to be very good with daggers and rapiers without needing to spend a feat for the privilege. However, they would still need a high strength to get a damage bonus on these weapons. And the sort of weapons that use Dexterity as a modifier to hit, tend to be the ones that deal less damage anyway. Rogues would remain behind fighters in the damage stakes (unless they used Sneak Attack, of course).

Exotic/Superior Weapons

All the editions of D&D that I own have made some attempt to single out particular weapons as being very difficult to learn. In second edition you had to spend two weapon proficiency slos to master the bastard sword. In third edition some weapons were Exotic and you had to take a feat in order to use that weapon as well as similar weapons. Fourth edition took exactly, the same tack – only it called such weapons Superior and not Exotic. So what are we going to do in HD&D?

Initially, I’m going to do nothing. All weapons will have base statistics and properties that make some weapons more useful than others in certain circumstances. When I finish the weapon tables and post them to the blog you will see what I mean. However, no weapon is going to be singled out for rough treatment. A character with the Heavy Blades skill can use it to wield with the bastard sword with the same proficiency as the long sword.

My plan is that weapons that were marked as Exotic or Superior in previous editions can perform better in the hands of those who know how to use them. What this means in practice is that there will be a feat available to improve upon the weapon, making it more dangerous in the hands of certain characters.

These feats will only be available to martial characters. Obviously, they’ll be available to the fighter; but if the weapon is in the particular idiom of the ranger (bow), paladin (lance) or rogue (sap) then I would widen the availability. These are the sort of advantages that will make the fighter more of a force to be reckoned with.

In Conclusion

My preferred system sets aside twelve different weapon skills (as listed above). Some have their attack rolls modified by the character’s Strength modifier and some by the character’s Dexterity modifier. However, damage is solely the province of strength – except on weapons like a crossbow where no such modifier applies.

Fighters and other martial characters can use their available Talents and Feats to augment their proficiency in a weapon. This augmentation may not take the form of an additional bonus to hit or damage, but may allow you to use the weapon in new and exciting ways.

Two feats demand a specific mention. Skill Focus adds +1 per five levels to your skill modifier. This applies to any skill, including weapon skills, and the feat is availanble to anyone.

Weapon Specialisation adds +1 per five levels to the damage of a specific type of weapon – not a weapon group. You could have Weapon Specialisation (longsword), not Weapon Specialisation (heavy blades).  Weapon Specialisation can only be taken by certain martial classes.

Which I think about sums it up. This is how I see weapon skills being handled in HD&D. The actual damage weapons do, and their properties is the subject of another post.

24 thoughts on “HD&D: Weapon Skills

  1. As far as max skill ranks go, are you not going to adopt the 3e version whereby your max was 3+level? 1/2 level sounds a bit weedy to me, or does it work under 4th?

  2. It’s largely just an attempt to keep the numbers sane.

    Everything in the game is relative. Skills increase by +1 per two levels. Therefore defences also increase by +1 per two levels. This means (all things being equal) a maxed out Arcana skill has a 50% chance of affecting the Will defence of a wizard of the same level; a maxed out Heavy Blades skill has a 50% chance of stabbing the Reflex defence of a fighter of the same level.

    So while I could set skills as 3 + Level instead, I would then have to set everything else at that level as well.

    At the moment in HD&D a 20th level fighter with a Con of 18 has a base Fortitude defence of 24. If defences increased at an advanced rate similar to third edition, then his base Fortitude Defence would be 37.

    If the only true variable in the game is the 1d20 you roll, then the higher the static skills are, the less that roll means. Turn that Fortitude Defence from the above example into a skill bonus: we have one system where a 20th level character probably has +14 in a skill, and another where he probably has +27. When you have characters with skills that high, then the random roll just means less – which is something I wanted to avoid.

    Which is a rather convoluted answer to a simple question.


    PS – and it’s also the way it works in fourth edition.

  3. Let me get this straight. Every PC gets 8 skill points at every level. They start with eight skills (or maybe less if they cross-class). They can then only increase these initial skills at third level. Therefore, they have to learn eight (or four, or six) wholly new skills at second level. This seems odd to me.

    I can understand the reasons for keeping skill ranks down in order to keep the random aspect interesting, but I’m not convinced by this system. From second level onwards, the character will have not eight, but sixteen skills that advance at alternate levels. Is that the intention? It seems a lot and the progress to second level would be spent learning and practising a whole host of new skills. First level characters won’t have time to adventure if they’re having to learn three new professions, two new weapons, wilderness survival techniques, rudimentary alchemy and how to hide in shadows. I suppose it would explain why so few NPCs get to level two. It’s a lot of hard work.

  4. Neil.
    1. Staffs should be in the polearms group.
    2. Ranged weapons (Bow, Crossbow and Thrown) should be a combination of Strength and range to target.
    a crossbow has a fixed strength (dependant on the manufacture), a bow should have a maximum pull weight corresponding to the strength/damage bonus, any strength above this is wasted (or more acurately – boyond what can be applied to the bow, and a thrown weapon should use the strength of the thrower. These should all then be decrease based on the range target, probably 0 short, -1 medium etc.
    I can see Daniels point – you have 16 class skills, and you will basically more than likely have 1 point in each of these after level 2 – making choices a bit dull until you reach level 3.
    half your level(rounddown)+1 (ie 1 for 1/1 2/2 3/2 4/3 etc makes for more range of choice at level 2, without allowing level one characters to have a 2 point skill.

  5. Neil.

    Sorry – not clear enough.
    point 2. Obviously it’s Dex to hit ; the rant is related to strength to damage (and how it should reduce as the force of the projectile diminishes over its range)

  6. Daniel:

    Yes, that’s the way things stand at the moment. Eight skill points per level lets you ‘max out’ sixteen skills in two blocks of eight. One block at odd numbered levels, and one at even.

    Yes, it is a bit odd. I’ll give you that.

    All the skills you increase at first level cannot be increased again until level three. Therefore at level two you have spend all those skill points on something else entirely.

    The obviously way to solve this is just to give away skill points at odd number levels. You get 16 skill points at level one, 16 more at level three and so on.

    Would that be better?

  7. Jon, your points:

    1) I’m willing to be guided on this. Third edition lumped staff in with clubs and maces. Fourth edition actually gave staffs their own Weapon Group (imaginatively entitled “Staffs”). What is it to be? Polearms? Clubs? or a shall we give staffs a group of their very own?

    2) So ranged weapons is Dexterity to hit and Strength to damage (except crossbows where the strength comes from the machine). I agree with you on the pull weight of a bow. I’ll certainly include that in the game. I’m not planning on going the other way though. I’m not going to require a minimum strength to use a bow with a high pull weight. There may be some disagreement with this.

    As for diminishing damage from strength depending on range… yes, this is probably accurate. However, it strikes me as a bit too fiddlesome to bother with in D&D. I think the modifiers will be forgotten when the game is actually played.

    However, I’m going to have penalties to hit from firing at range, so why not penalties for damage? Comments?

    3) See my response to Daniel above. Half your level rounded down +1… Hmm… Well, as I said to Jack if I change it for skills I change it for everything. But it’s only a +1 so it wouldn’t make the modifiers ridiculous. And we’d be rounding down not rounding up, so I’d have to make that ethos change clear in the HD&D. If we round down for one thing, we round down for all things.

    However, doesn’t this just delay the issue. If the maximum ranks you can have is half your level (rounded down) +1, then your maximum ranks for first nine levels would be as follows:

    Lvl 1: 1
    Lvl 2: 2
    Lvl 3: 2
    Lvl 4: 3
    Lvl 5: 3
    Lvl 6: 4
    Lvl 7: 4
    Lvl 8: 5
    Lvl 9: 5

    While you can accrue bonuses ranks in the same skills between levels one and two, you can’t do it between levels 2 and 3, or levels 4 or 5, or levels 6 and 7. It works the same way as my system, it just puts the problem off for one level. Is that desirable?

  8. I think we’d be better to have all 16 skills at first level and increase them at every odd level if you want to keep the mechanics the same. The two blocks of eight doesn’t make sense to me. Even levels would have to be beefed up in terms of benefits to make up for it.

    Diminishing damage related to range, works for me. I’d tie it to the penalties to hit at range rather than to the attackers strength. It makes for a simpler mechanic.

    I’m not sure about staves as polearms. In some ways they are similar to polearms but not in the monkish, double weapon sense. I’d be tempted to leave them in with clubs. It’s a tricky one though.

    I’d definitely have lances in with spears, not polearms.

    Whips in with flails? I can’t see any weapon that is similar to whips.

  9. Flails, chains and whips? You sort of whirl them about at people?

    Well, they seem similar to me anyway! Especially chains and whips – at least the way they are traditionally presented in the D&D game.

    I think it’s a valid observation that Polearms, lances and spears could all be folded into the same weapon group. It’s all thrusting isn’t it?

    I’m happy to create more weapon groups if we think we need them. One weapon group for Staffs, and one for Whips. The second edition Player’s Option books contended that nothing was quite like a whip, so it didn’t fall into any of the broad or narrow weapon groupings.

    As for skill points…. well, if we do decide just to award them to PCs at odd numbered levels, I don’t see any reason why we have to make even numbered levels any better. We’re not in a position where some classes will get an advantage over others, everyone is using the same progression.

    I’d rather have PCs getting skill points at every level if we could find a way to do it.

  10. I’d definitely have flails and whips in separate groups. Chains could go in either. Chains are pretty weird weapons anyway.

    I’d say, lances and spears should be in one group and polearms in another. A lance and a spear are pretty similar but a halberd is quite different.

    I’m quite happy to have groups of one, such as the whip. The staff is tricky again, though. I can see the logic of having it in with polearms but in game terms, where does that leave wizards? We don’t want wizards using halberds particularly, but we do want them to have access to a good quarterstaff. It’s possibly an underpowered group but I might leave it on its own.

  11. So that gives us:

    Flails and Chains
    Hammers and Picks
    Heavy Blade
    Light Blade
    Maces and Clubs
    Spears and Lances

    Fourteen weapon groups.
    Too many?

  12. Question: should we change the group from Slings to “Slings and Thrown Weapons”?

    Is it really the same skill to throw a dagger as it is to use a dagger in melee? Or to throw a javelin as to attack with a spear?

  13. Neil says:

    some comments on your skills thread:

    1. I say keep the options and powers way of doing things, just tweak the groups a bit. Have a group throwing weapons such as knives hammers and axes.

    2. Whips and the chain/rope weapons should be under exotic or separate categories of their own.

    3. I would use the weapon skill “supernatural” for any racial weapon such as dragon breath, stone gaze etc.

    4. Put staves in both polearms and clubs and maces. This does not mean that wizardy types can use all of these as they would have to pick.

    5. I will never agre that strength should ever be used for anything other than damage modification when it comes to weapons. You need skill and co-ordination to swing a melee weapon, that means Dex.

    6. Bows, or more accurately arrows, should not do more damage the stronger the character is. A bow is a mechanical device which stores energy. For it to work properly it must be drawn an appropriate amount, that is the weight of the bow and means that bows do have a strength requisite. If you cannot draw the string the weapon is useless and conversely if you are monstrously strong the string can only go back so far and therefore waste the energy you are putting into it. Bows should have pretty much set damage for different ranges, as should cross-bows. The big cross-bows are not much different to the other types in that a man had to either winch the string (windlass) or use his body by putting a foot on the bow and heave the string into position.

    7. Strength should be applied to all thrown and melee weapons.

  14. My responses to Neil:

    1) Doesn’t the broad groups and tight groups of weapons just smack of overkill to you? I’m also not clear how we would keep the distinction between the two in the system I have laid down.

    In previous editions of D&D everyone has a base attack bonus. Their chance to hit is dependent on their class and level, not on their skills. In second edition (the Player’s Option) or third edition (the weapon groups) you’re just buying the right to attack with that weapon without penalty. That’s very different to HD&D where the weapon group actually becomes the skill you use to fight with.

    Say someone wanted to be proficient in the longsword. If we used the Player’s Option system then he could achieve that with the Medium Swords Narrow Weapon Group, or the Swords Broad Weapon Group.

    Well, presumably it should be easier to learn “Medium Swords” because it gives less options than “Swords”. Well, under HD&D it can’t be any easier. We can’t make it cost fewer skill points, because you’re only spending one skill point as it is. We can’t let someone with a narrow group have a higher limit on maximum ranks because that throws out the maths.

    It’s it all just a bit too complicated? Isn’t easier to say, here are the weapon skills and be done with it?

    2) I think Flails and Chains are probably similar enough to share a skill. Whips should probably be in a group of their own – along with the scourge, whip-dagger, cat o’ nine tails and so on.

    3) I thougth about this, but it’s terribly broad isn’t it? The same skill for a red dragon breath and a ghost’s frightening presence? Could we just say that if a talent calls for an attack roll that has no skill equivalent, then that roll automatically defaults to half the character’s level + relevent ability score modifier? That’s how saving throw DCs for weirdo powers was calculated in third edition so there is precedence.

    4) The trouble is they don’t really function as either do they? Maces are generally used to bash someone with almost a chopping motion, polearms are thrusting weapons. Staffs can be both, or their can be neither. You remember Diana from the D&D cartoon. The fighting style of the staff isn’t quite like polearms or maces really, is it?

    5) Yes, I thought you would say that. The point of the matter is that most of these heavy melee weapons are going to find themselves in the hands of the Fighter class. The Fighter relies on his strength, always has. The game is set up for it.

    I remind of your staunch defence of the fighter in the post on weapon damage. Nothing will shaft the fighter more than having to be good in two ability scores (Strength and Dexterity) instead of one. Every other class has one ability score that affects the class’s primary talents Clerics (Wis), Wizards (Int), Rogues (Dex), Sorcerers (Cha), Bards (Cha), Swordmages (Int) and so on. If the fighter needs two stats to be effective at what he’s supposed to do better than anyone else, then he really is going to become second class.

    Arguably, yes. You’re right. Dexterity is a more sensible stat to modify attack rolls than Strength. It’s what they use in True 20. However, I don’t think that we can do it. I don’t think that D&D (or HD&D) would survive that sort of change.

    6) Yes, that’s the way longbows work. But is that the way we want them to work in the game? All longbows have a strength score. Anyone below that strength cannot use the bow at all. Anyone above that strength can only apply the strength modifier of the bow to their damage rolls.

    Although isn’t just this all just represented by the tension on the bow? Couldn’t you buy any old bow and just tighten the string to the extent that you could just your full strength bonus with it?

    7) I take it you mean to damage? Agreed.

  15. Neil’s reply to my above points:

    1. Easier? Yes of course. However there are a number of mechanics you could have simplified but didn’t. A broad group should mean that the characters have some knowledge in those weapons but a fighter who really knows how to wield a longsword, for example, should be better with that. I think to be honest you probably have it covered under the specialisation feat.

    2. Chain weapons are, to my knowledge, exclusively oriental and are incredibly hard to use, they basically are used to entrap the opponent and cut/bludgeon them with the opposite ends. Flails are very different in that they have a much shorter chain, or chains, with something heavy and/or spiky on one end (two for the nunchaku) to bludgeon the opponent with. Chains and flails are far more different than swords and axes for example so I think you should have them as separate categories. Whips are again very different, more similar to the chains than anything.

    3. The problem I have with your solution is that the supernatural creature doesn’t have to work at it, they just have a default. If that were the case surely all characters should have unarmed combat at half their level as well? What is wrong with having such a broad skill? You can’t gain the supernatural attacks of other creatures can you?

    4. Maces are often used in a thrusting motion and polearms cover a multitude of weapons such as glaives and naginatas (oriental glaives), which can certainly be used very similarly to staves. The groups you have are really quite broad plus you could argue that some of them are very similar mechanically, such as axes and swords, spears and polearms (pikes). Lances should have a separate skill as they are the only melee weapon, that I can think of, that is used with a horse. I also think you should have some sort of mounted combat skill. I would have: light baldes (including axes); heavy blades (including axes); maces, hammers, picks and clubs; glaives and staves; chain; flail; bows (both types); thrown weapons (daggers, hammers, spears and javelins); whips; sling; polearms and spears (melee); unarmed; lances; supernatural and a mounted weapon skill.

    5. But that’s the point! You should have the option to play a fighter who hits a lot but doesn’t do that much damage or a fighter who doesn’t hit that much but when he does it really hurts! Using Str to hit means that the massive hulking ogre is truly awesome at hitting things and of course does huge damage, this penalises those races which aren’t as strong unfairly in my view. Yes, I know you can take a talent to use Dex instead but it should be the other way round if anything! Using strength means you get the ridiculous situation where a strong, less skilled fighter can easily hit a weaker, more skilled fighter and really hurt, but the weaker fighter has less of a chance AND does less damage!

    6. No. It doesn’t work like that. Bows are very carefully constructed, the reason long bows are made from yew is because it is flexible and strong. Using something else you’d either not get the power or break the bow! Applying the strength of the bow seems fair but really that is just saying that long bow arrows do maore damage than self bow ones etc.

    7. Yes I did.

  16. And my reply to his:

    1) Okay, I’ll assume we agree on this point even though we’re coming at it from different angles. The weapon groups remain realtively broad, with further specialisation possible with the judicious use of feats.

    2) See 4.

    3) I take your point. However, it’s all to do with how a player manages his resources. In HD&D everything a PC can do can be boiled down to his skills, his feats, his racial traits and his talents. Each PC gets a finite number of these resources.

    If the PC already has a weirdo talent, like dragon breath, then the chances are that he would have had to have spent a Talent to acquire it. If we are then saying that he also has to spend Skill Points to make this talent work, then it’s akin for the character paying for the ability twice. The Talent itself becomes useless without the skill to back it up.

    Yes, there are instances in the game where this is already the case. Spellcasting is a prime example. Arguably, all of the Fighter’s nifty talents are useless without his weapon skills. However, magic and weapon skills have a broad appeal, supernatural abilities do not. I think it presents an extra layer of complication that we don’t need.

    What does everyone else think?

    4) You would have maces as a different weapon group to clubs? Aren’t maces just better clubs? Surely clubs are more similar to maces than picks are to maces? And surely, bow and crossbow are two fundamentally different skills? This is problematic isn’t it?

    Maybe we’d be best dividing the list of weapon skills into its most basic components: Maces, Picks, Hammers, Staffs, Chains, Whips and everythign else we have a problem with becomes its own weapon skill. Of course that would increase the number of skills by a significant margin.

    5) If Strength just applies to heavy melee weapons – like longswords, axes, polearms and so on – then I think there’s a legitimate reason why it should take precedence over dexterity. These are not weapons you wield quickly. In order to use them, you need strength and control. Weapons like swords, greatswords and (particularly) polearms are long, heavy and difficult to use unless you have the muscle to control them. Without strength it’s easy to overbalance.

    Should a fighter with Str 5 and Dex 20 be able to wield a greatsword better than a fighter with Str 16 and Dex 10?

    We have the option to play a quick (high dex) fighter who hits for less damage, and a brute (high str) fighter who hits for more damage. However, the decision is in the weapons that they use. I don’t believe that you can be a fleet-of-foot fighter who relies on speed more than brute strength, if you’re weapon of choice is a polearm.

    6) I’ll take you word for it that it doesn’t work that way. However, is there any reason why it shouldn’t work that way for the benefit of the game? I don’t really want to make such an iconic weapon as the longbow a less optimal choice because of how difficult it might be to find a weapon that suits a character’s stats.

    7) Jolly good.

  17. Here’s a thought.

    Maybe one of the obstacles is assuming that polearms fall into one weapon group. Maybe they don’t, maybe “polearm” is too broad a term.

    Maybe some polearms are classified as Axes, some as Picks, others as Spears, and others as Staffs. Maybe some polearms belong in more than one Weapon Group, but there is no “Polearms” group.

    What do you all think on that?

  18. A quick note…

    Polearms are designed not to be used corps-a-corps, the other are, differen technique entirely. There was a 3rd edition feat that allowed you to use the half of a polearm as a staff in close quarters.

    I say loose groups as in similar shape and go for fighting styles like mariner and monk, etc… and a number of narrow weapon groups are associated (e.g. 3)

    Axe (great axe, battle axe, hatchet)
    Bow (longbow, shortbow, horsebow)
    Crossbow (heavy, light, ballista)
    Flails (heavy, light, farm implement)
    Chains (spiked, lasso, 50s legth)
    Picks (heavy, light, mining tool)
    Great Blades (Greast sword, kopesh, claymore)
    Heavy Blade (longsword, bastardsword)
    Light Blade (rapier, sabre, epee)
    Short Blade (dagger, knife, gladius)
    Maces (mace, morningstar, maul)
    Clubs (club, blackjack, cudgel)
    Hammers (warhammer, sledge)
    Pikes (longspear, pike, ranseur)
    Glaves (glave, lucern hammer, halberd)
    Sling (sling, staff-sling)
    Staves (Quarterstaff, shepherd crook, bo)
    Spears (spear, javelin, short spear)
    Lances (Heavy, medium, jousting)
    Unarmed (boxing, wrestling, karate)
    Shield (spiked, buckler)
    Whips (whip)
    Nets (net)
    Artillery (catapult, mangonel)

    There are issues you can take with any depth when looking into weapons, for instance, the shortsword (renaissance english duelling weapon not the short wide blade) was constructed for little flex and greater strength. This allowed the weilder to parry meaningful blows without weapons breaking, unlike the point only rapier. Also the blade was a slashing and piercing weapon rather than piercing only, but being heavier it was a slower weapon. Superficially they look alike but would be fought with very differently.

    All that meandering has lead me to this point… find a level of detail, don’t go specialisation longsword and have the broad category Heavy Blades, I’d narrow the categories and include them in the focus and specialisation feats.

  19. 1. Neil’s points about bows are well made and I’m convinced that Strength should have a large bearing in who can use one. Let’s give them a broad enough range though, in order to prevent them becoming super-specialised weapons. I’d say you could have smaller bows that can only be used by PCs with strength bonuses of -1/+0 and would apply their respective strength bonuses, ones that characters with a +1/+2 str bonus can use and ones that characters with a +3/+4 bonus can use and so on, right up to an Odysseus style uber-bow. A character couldn’t use a heavier bow than their own strength would allow but they could use a smaller bow, applying only the bow’s strength (as in 3rd ed.).

    2. I’m happy for dex to be the attribute that affects the chance to hit with light weapons, but I think it’s entirely appropriate to use strength as the determining attribute for big, heavy weapons. Neil is right that skill is the most important aspect of combat ability, but I don’t think that this is what dex represents. It’s what skill points represent. I think a claymore is best in the hands of a well trained professional with bulging muscles. It seems far more appropriate than agility and nimbleness.

    3. I like Marc’s list of weapon groups best, so far. I don’t claim to be a weapons expert (and am always slightly concerned that so many people I know do seem to be), but I think that these narrowish groups make the most sense. How do you propose the loose groups to work? I think that someone with great skill in a longsword has to have at least some competency with an axe. It might be a different technique, but it’s not so different that a swordsmaster would be no better than a novice axeman. I would suggest that a character could take, for example, the skill Heavy Blade and would able to use associated weapons like, I don’t know, Axes and Great Blades with their Heavy Blade skill at a -5 penalty.

    Could this be appropriate to other skills? If you have Diplomacy would you be able to use Bluff and Sense Motive through your Diplomacy skill at a -5 penalty? I think that there is a precedent for this in situations such as using Knowledge (Local) at a DC 20 or Knowledge (History) at a DC of 25 to get the same result. This might be too much, but I think it’s worth thinking about. I’ve always felt that someone with Diplomacy should be able to use Sense Motive at least a bit, but haven’t always had the skill points for both. Likewise, Survival and Knowledge (Nature). They’re not the same, but they are related and could work off one another. In 3.5 they give synergy bonuses but if you don’t have the skill Knowledge (Nature) you don’t get the advantage of that. You’d still be better off having all the related skills individually but wouldn’t be completely at a loss in areas related to but not directly part of your expertise. I guess this could be applied on a case by case basis, increasing DCs for specific tasks, but would it be possible to bring it into the system?

  20. Marc: you raise a number of points in this post. Most of which I hadn’t thought of:

    1) Attacking with a shield is definitely an option for many fighters, and at the moment there’s no recourse within the rules to allow for that. A ‘Shield Bash’ or similar skill is probably required.

    2) I don’t have a skill for Artillery at the moment. The editions up until now have assumed that the accuracy of seige weapons is dependent on the machine and not on the operator. In 2nd edition, the catapult or trebuchet had its own THAC0, any idiot could pull the trigger. Is this true, or should there be some skill in its operation.

    I had hoped I could somehow attach Seige Engineering to the skill Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) to givet the skill a little more teeth, but I haven’t worked out the details of that yet.

    However, those two points aside, you’ve still come up with a list of twenty-four weapon skills and my instinct is telling me that is too many. I was aiming for about twelve. Do we really need Great Blades, Heavy Blades, Light Blades and Short Blades?

    I don’t know. Maybe we do. I’ll bow to a greater knowledge of weapons and how they were used in real combat. But we are going to have to draw the line somewhere – as you say, we have to find a level of detail.

    Since my last post, I’ve noticed that (in 4e) most polearms are in the Polearms weapon group, and another weapon group as well – either the staff, the axe or the spear. Theoretically if there is sufficient overlap between the weapon groups then the game could cope with more.

    One thing I’m curious about: is there really any practical difference between fighting with a Mace and fighting with a Club? The mace is more effective, but they’re both bashing weapons. Come to thing of it, how is a mace different to a hammer?

    Can we get this list down from 24 to 12? 15 at the outside?

  21. Daniel: I’m pretty sure I have written somewhere on the blog that it is my intention that if you don’t have the right skill for the job, you can try another skill at a penalty. These penalties would be in increments of -5, depending on how far away the skill you wanted to roll was from the skill I asked for. Obviously this is affected by circumstances

    For example: you are walking through a graveyard at night when you are jumped by three muggers. You might argue you can use your Knowledge (History) skill instead of Intimidate, because you know that whenever blood is spilt on the ground it causes the dead to rise from their graves and nobble the aggressor.

    This principle would also apply to weapons. I suspect I would rely on whether weapons were Slashing, Piercing or Bludgeoning to adjudicate the level of the penalty.

  22. Neil says:


    Can you please read my messages! I did not say that clubs were different from maces, that is why is used a semi-colon to separate the groups from simply using a comma! My Skills were:

    light baldes (including axes)
    heavy blades (including axes)
    maces, hammers, picks and clubs
    glaives and staves
    bows (both types)
    thrown weapons (daggers, hammers, spears and javelins)
    polearms and spears (melee)

    supernatural and a mounted weapon skill.

    Which gives 13+.

    I take your point about needing strength to control certain heavy weapons, however, whether you like it or not, Dex is the catch-all term for general physical skill and co-ordination, without that you may as well give a sword to a gorilla! I think, and you won’t like it, that weapons should have a prerequisite str requirement, just like bows should. I don’t see any reason not to do this, it is only a slight pain at character gen.

    I’m not sure what you were saying about the long bow, I was advocating using Dex to hit and simply have the arrows do more damage than a standard bow, and all bows should have a minimum str requirement.

  23. Don’t be a sourpuss. I’m getting slightly myopic in my old age.

    Your list folds together a lot of the stuff that Marc separates. As far as I understand it, glaives are polearms. If they get a separate entry then why don’t awl pikes, or halberds or lucern hammers? Of course, I don’t actually know how you fight with a glaive… except the glaive in Krull – but I don’t think that counts.

    Also, I’m not sure that the system could cope with a Mounted Weapon skill. How it would work. You use “Heavy Blades” to fight with a longsword, except when you’re on a horse, in which case you use “Mounted Weapon”? And why doesn’t it apply to a lance? Isn’t that the quintessential mounted weapon?

    The way I see it, some weapons you can use from a horse and some you can’t. Third edition does a fairly good job at singling out what you can easily attack with, and what you can’t. For example, you can’t easily fire a bow on horseback if the mount is moving.

    I think we’re better off coming up with some broad generalisations for mounted weapon use, and then allow characters to mitigate the penalties by taking talents and feats. Mounted Combat sounds as though it should go down the same mechanical road as Two-Weapon Fighting, rather than being a separate skill.

    I’m not sure that Dex is the general catch all skill for physical skill and co-ordination in D&D. It tends to share that role with Str. Str is the skill you use for climbing, jumping and swimming – all activities where you might imagine a bit of hand/eye co-ordination is an advantage. Let’s all sit on the side of the pool and watch the dwarf with Dex 3 trying to swim the Butterfly.

    From a metagame point of view (the need to create distinct and enjoyable roles for fighters and rogues) I think we need to keep Str as the related ability score for heavy weapons. The very fact that it can be defended by recourse to common sense (even if that common sense isn’t convincing) is enough for me. If everything comes off Dex then we have issues.

    And placing a Strength requirement on weapons is too much hassle. Not just in terms to generating characters and running the game, but also in writing up the weapon stats. I don’t really want to go down that road.

    As for longbows, I would say this: longbows are made to take into account the strength of the wielder. The wielder can either buy a longbow of the right strength, or pay to have it changed.

    If you don’t have the strength required by the bow, then you cannot draw the bow and so you cannot use it. If your strength is greater than what is required by the bow, you can use the bow, but the maximum strength bonus to can apply to damage is determined by the bow and not by you (as Daniel said a few comments ago).

  24. Okay. You’ve all given me a lot to think about. I’m going to distill the ideas from this thread into a new list of Weapon Skills, then I’ll post it onto a Yay or Nay poll.

    If the Nays have it then we’ll return to the discussion.

    The poll is now online here. Pop over and have a vote. The discussion from this thread continues below the poll.

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